British Columbia’s Workers Compensation Act, RSBC 1996, ch 492, and the related Occupational Health and Safety Regulation, set out requirements in respect of workplace safety. Employers that operate in British Columbia and are provincially regulated are generally required to abide by these requirements, which include footwear requirements. The Workers Compensation Act and its regulations are administered by the Workers’ Compensation Board.
On or about March 8, 2017, British Columbia’s Green Party leader, Andrew Weaver, introduced Bill M237 in the Legislative Assembly. Bill M 237 proposes to amend section 111 of the Workplace Compensation Act, which sets out the powers of the Board. Specifically, the amendment would require the Board to establish standards and requirements for the protection of the health and safety of workers which, where possible, must not vary based on workers’ gender, gender expression, or gender identity. While the wording of the amendment suggests that gender neutrality could become a more general consideration in the exercise of the Board’s powers, the amendment is being touted as a means to prohibit employers from requiring different footwear to be worn depending on an employee’s gender, gender expression or gender identity.
Bill M 237 received first reading in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia on March 8, 2017. While Bill M 237 is not a government-sponsored bill, British Columbia Premier Christy Clark has publicly backed the intent of the bill, and has indicated that the British Columbia government will take action to stop the practice of requiring women to wear high heels on the job. At this time it is not clear whether the British Columbia government will simply back Bill M 237, or whether it will choose to bring in separate legislation to similar effect.
If implemented, changes brought in by Bill M 237would affect provincially regulated employers that operate in British Columbia and that are subject to the Workers Compensation Act. These employers should carefully monitor the progress of this bill, and also be prepared for possible changes to footwear standards or for the introduction of a government bill similar effect.